Q: What do you call someone who looks just like you, who you’ve never met?
A. A stupid fucking hipster.
Yes, the hipster has long served as a convenient scapegoat for people who aspire to be hip without the “-ster”. Onto them, we project our insecurities about our own superficiality, inauthenticity, and even insecurity itself. What better way to spackle over one’s embarrassing desire to be cool, then to point at some guy wearing pants a millimeter skinnier than one’s own and say “see that guy? He’s obviously desperate to be cool. Sad, really.” But hipsters aren’t just a collective figment of our neurotic late-capitalist imaginations; they’re also a trend. Since hipsters are defined by trendiness, this represents a meta-trend, a trend in favor of trendiness itself. In “The Hipster Trap,” Steven Kurutz grapples with the contradictions and Derridean aporias created by his own internally incoherent mental conception of the “hipster.” Continue reading “Trend of the Week: Hipster Ubiquity”→
In the past, this blog has perused the New York Times for insights on how to be cool. Today, we turn to a more weighty topic. While coolness is of abiding interest to lifestyle journalists, many of the luminaries profiled in the Times‘ pages transcend mere hipness; they are consummate examples of human perfection, without flaws either inside or out. How can we emulate them? Let’s find out.
“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” So claimed T. S. Eliot in his iconic essay “Hamlet and His Problems.” And what’s true of Hamlet is doubly true for the New York Times‘ Modern Love column. This recurring essay feature aspires to represent emotion in the form of art, but with a 2000-word length limit, plus there’s no sex scenes or cussing allowed. To put things into perspective, this it what it sounds like when an essayist describes their love story in literal language: “We went to the beach and swam, held hands at the Fourth of July fireworks, went on roller coasters at Six Flags, ate Thanksgiving dinner with each other’s families, exchanged gifts on Christmas. We cried when I had to leave for long periods of time.” Fascinating. No, this will not do: If you wish to interest the world in your banal tale of romantic disappointment, you must take Eliot’s advice. You need a metaphor. You need a symbol. You need an objective correlative for those ineffable emotions. Like this: Continue reading “Crazy Love III”→
It may sometimes seem like women face an impossible task: Whether it’s motherhood, professional life or just walking down the street, ladies are vulnerable to the conflicting demands and judgmental expectations of society. A woman is liable to be judged on tiny details — of speech, behavior, even the clothes she wears — and must negotiate the conflicting dangers of being labeled too butch or too feminine, too assertive or too timid, too prudish or too sexy.
But if you think that sounds hard, it’s nothing compared to what New York Times writers have to deal with. Just look at the first sentence of Ruth La Ferla’s article “Women Enjoy the Cool Comfort of Summer Dresses“: “Trends come and go, but the dress persists, secure in its status as a metaphor.”
Some of the problems with the New York Times are nebulous and diffuse. The writers’ tone can seem kind of smug and suck-uppy. They write about rich people too much. They care way too much about iPhones and hipsters and artisanal axes and stuff. Yet none of these things are wrong, exactly. It’s not incorrect to write that a man in TriBeCa is crafting beautiful handmade “urban axes,” as indeed he is. Yet some claims and ideas in the Times aren’t just annoying; they’re concretely, satisfyingly wrong. That is what we’ll be looking at today. How many kinds of wrongness are there in Times articles, and what form do they take?
Michael Leviton is a New York musician and author who has a children’s book forthcoming from Hyperion next year. The video above gives you an idea of his worldview: It features accordion and glockenspiel, warbly soprano vocals, and lyrics about how all the normal beautiful people are having fun in the summertime but the speaker is lonely and disillusioned because he’s so quirky, unique and sensitive. The video contributes to the atmosphere, spinning a nostalgic yarn about a 1940’s sailor who falls in love with an emaciated mermaid and is lured by her coquetry to a watery grave. I posted it on my Facebook page, and one music fan was moved to comment on the song’s “incoherent lyrics, extremely amateurish singing, and worst of all, an acoustic guitar (technically ukulele) with which absolutely nothing interesting is done,” observing that “Benjamin Franklin invented electricity for a reason.” I think it sounds like an imitation of parody of a Stephen Merritt/Belle and Sebastien cover band. You might like it, though!
Why am I telling you about Michael Leviton? Because he is the author of the latest “Modern Love,” and the subject of this post. But before looking at his writing, let me shift gears for a moment. Why do people write embarrassing stuff about themselves? Everyone has done dumb stuff they feel bad about, but why publish it for all the world? It’s hard to say. Yet autobiography, memoir and standup comedy would all be impossible without the speaker’s penitential urge to be bracingly honest. No one wants to read a story about how you went to Stanford, didn’t do drugs, got a job at a financial firm, bought a Prius, and married someone just as upwardly mobile as you. Or maybe they do, if you’re in the New York Times wedding pages, but that doesn’t make it interesting. So it’s lucky we have some writers who feel compelled to tell the ugly truth.